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Top Ten Prospects: Chicago White Sox
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Phil Rogers
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: Anderson had a roller-coaster career at Arizona, where he earned Freshman All-America honors as a two-way star in 2001. But he tailed off as a sophomore, in part because of knee and wrist injuries. When he gave up pitching and was fully healthy in 2003, his stock soared and the White Sox made him the 15th overall pick in the draft. After signing for $1.6 million, he launched his pro career by hitting .388 at Rookie-level Great Falls, only to have his pro debut end after 13 games when a recurrence of the wrist injury required minor surgery. He bounced back so strongly in 2004 that the White Sox had enough confidence to include outfielder Jeremy Reed—who preceded Anderson as the No. 1 prospect in the organization a year ago—in a midseason trade for Freddy Garcia. Anderson played a strong center field at high Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, hitting well at the lower level and holding his own while making adjustments following his promotion. He missed the last two weeks of the season with a groin strain.
Strengths: Anderson is a good athlete who knows how to use his tools. He uses the entire field, showing both the ability to launch balls to left field and the willingness to go to right. He came out of college with solid plate discipline and has had no difficulty making consistent contact as a pro. If he has to move to an outfield corner, he projects to hit with enough power to be an asset at that position. Anderson runs well and has enough speed to play center field. He has enough arm to play anywhere in the outfield, as he threw in the low-90s as a reliever at Arizona. He thrives on competition and was not intimidated by the stiffer competition when he moved up to Double-A.
Weaknesses: Minor injuries have continually bothered Anderson, who was limited at the end of the regular season and in the AFL by a groin strain. He appears to have a high-maintenance body. He needs to get more at-bats so he can continue to lock in the swing changes he started to incorporate as a junior under the guidance of Wildcats coach Andy Lopez. Anderson may not be more than adequate in center field, a position where adequate usually isn’t good enough. Some scouts actually rate him as a below-average runner, and he needs to improve routes to balls.
The Future: Anderson could get to the big leagues in the second half of 2005 if the White Sox have an outfield opening. But they’d prefer for him to spend a full season at Triple-A Charlotte and prepare to become a regular at U.S. Cellular Field in 2006. Having seen $5.3 million man Joe Borchard struggle to establish himself, Chicago might take it a little slower with Anderson in hopes that he can stick around when he gets his first taste of the big leagues. Whether he plays in center or right field likely will depend on whether Aaron Rowand can maintain the offensive and defensive productivity he showed in 2004.
Background: The White Sox stole Sweeney in 2003’s second round after a lackluster showcase performance on the eve of the draft hurt his stock. When injuries created a need for an outfielder in big league camp last spring, they summoned Sweeney—who responded by batting .367. Sox executive adviser Roland Hemond says he gets the same goosebumps watching Sweeney that he once did watching a young Harold Baines.
Strengths: Sweeney is athletic as well as a natural hitter with a textbook swing. He has few holes and uses the entire field. He has gap power and should add pop as he climbs toward Chicago. He also has a plus right-field arm.
Weaknesses: Some scouts in the high Class A Carolina League questioned Sweeney’s bat speed. He opened the season slowly and made matters worse by pressing, causing concerns about his patience. He’s still improving as a right fielder.
The Future: Sweeney should advance to Double-A after holding his own as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League. He could get to Chicago quickly because manager Ozzie Guillen and hitting coach Greg Walker are absolutely in love with his potential.
Background: Scouts John Kazanas and Joe Butler did an excellent job when they locked onto McCarthy after he had gone 12-0 and struck out 14 per nine innings in junior college in 2002. He led the Rookie-level Arizona and Pioneer leagues in strikeouts in his first two pro seasons, then topped the entire minors with 202 whiffs in 2004.
Strengths: McCarthy’s best pitch is a two-seam fastball that generally parks around 90 mph, and he has a four-seamer that hits 92-93. He also has a plus curveball. His height allows him to deliver pitches on a steep downward plane, and he throws strikes at will with an easily repeatable delivery.
Weaknesses: McCarthy has sailed to Double-A without a hitch. He can get better with his changeup, and he has started to make progress and use it more often.
The Future: Chicago couldn’t find a fifth starter in 2004, and McCarthy could jump into consideration with a strong spring. He’ll probably return to Double-A but won’t stay long if he picks up where he left off.
Background: A two-sport star at Oklahoma State, Fields set a school record for career passing touchdowns (55) and a Cotton Bowl mark for passing yards (307). He comes from athletic stock as his mother Rhonda was the first female athlete to earn a full scholarship to Oklahoma State. He gave up football to sign for $1.55 million as the 18th overall pick in the 2004 draft. He made a smooth transition to pro ball, helping Winston-Salem recover from a poor first half to reach the playoffs.
Strengths: Fields is a potentially dynamic hitter, combining strength and bat speed to generate power. He drives the ball to all fields and should hit for average as well as extra bases. He has a hard-nosed approach and strong work ethic. He has a plus arm at third base.
Weaknesses: Fields spent just two seasons as a third baseman in college and needs work on his fielding, especially his footwork and his release. He can get impatient at the plate and pile up strikeouts. He’s a below-average runner.
The Future: He likely will spend 2005 in Double-A. The White Sox are growing increasingly disappointed with Joe Crede and are looking to Fields to provide an alternative—the sooner the better.
Background: No one in the system has a better arm than Tracey, considered something of a project coming out of UC Irvine. He flashed his potential in his first two seasons but also had control problems. He turned a corner in 2004, thanks largely to his work with Winston-Salem pitching coach J.R. Perdew.
Strengths: Though Tracey can run his 93-94 mph fastball up to 97, his biggest asset may be his competitiveness. Winston-Salem manager Nick Leyva calls him an animal, saying he’d pitch “every night if I let him.’’ He has the basic Kevin Brown package: a hard sinker that gets grounders and a four-seam fastball that gets strikeouts up in the zone. He also uses a hard slider. Tracey smoothed out his mechanics and gained confidence as the season went on.
Weaknesses: Tracey led the Carolina League in walks and hit batters (23) but showed improvement over 2003. His mechanics require attention and make it difficult for him to throw a consistent slider or changeup. A better changeup would complement his power stuff.
The Future: A full season at Double-A is the next step for Tracey. He has the arm strength to become an impact starter or power closer.
Background: A star at national high school power Bellaire, Young lasted until the 16th round of the 2001 draft because he was rail-thin. He signed late that summer and spent two years in Rookie ball before making his full-season debut in 2004. He was inconsistent but his final numbers were proof he’s worth the effort that will be required to smooth out his rough edges.
Strengths: While Young still hasn’t bulked up, he’s extremely strong and has nearly as much raw power as anyone in the system. He uses his top-of-the-line speed to turn singles into doubles and to put pressure on pitchers. Some White Sox officials already consider him a major league-caliber center fielder.
Weaknesses: Young often gets overly aggressive at the plate, exacerbating his difficulties at making contact. He has struck out in 27 percent of his pro at-bats and must reduce that number to make better use of his speed and power. His arm strength is below average.
The Future: Ticketed for high Class A, Young is somewhat reminiscent of former White Sox farmhand Mike Cameron. Chicago would love to see him reach the majors in 2007.
Background: A top pitching prospect since he won Florida 6-A state title games at Miami’s Hialeah High as a freshman and sophomore, Gonzalez transferred to private Monsignor Pace High for his senior season. The White Sox might not have been able to grab him with the No. 38 pick had he not been dismissed from the team following a dispute between his mother and the coach over his brother’s lack of playing time. He signed for $850,000.
Strengths: Gonzalez has an advanced feel for pitching for someone so young, with good command of a nice collection of pitches. His 87-90 mph fastball peaks at 94, but his out pitch is a tight curveball he throws in any count. He also has a decent changeup.
Weaknesses: Because he does not have a powerful build, some scouts wonder about Gonzalez’ durability. He carries himself with an air of cockiness that could get tiresome, especially if he struggles.
The Future: Gonzalez handled low Class A in his pro debut but probably will begin 2005 back in Kannapolis. He should move faster than most high school pitchers.
Background: After Hernandez batted .297 with six homers in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2003, he was rewarded with a visa. He flashed tremendous potential in his first season in the United States, ranking second in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in batting and throwing out basestealers (33 percent).
Strengths: Though he’s slightly built, Hernandez is a skilled switch-hitter with a strong arm. He’s solid from both sides of the plate and has surprising power for his size. He has the ability to make adjustments, which should keep him out of slumps. His receiving, blocking and game-calling also earn praise.
Weaknesses: Hernandez needs polish behind the plate. Chicago is trying to get him to quicken his release. He sometimes chases bad pitches, something more advanced pitchers can exploit more easily.
The Future: The White Sox believe Hernandez can be an all-star catcher, something they haven’t had since 1991 (Carlton Fisk) and something they’ve never developed on their own. He’s ready for a full season in low Class A.
Background: Because he always played alongside Andy Gonzalez, Lopez spent much of his first three pro seasons as a second baseman. Farm director Dave Wilder decided it was time to separate the two in 2004, allowing them both to play shortstop. Lopez made the most of that chance, flashing plus fielding skills while continuing to show promise as a hitter.
Strengths: Lopez’ advanced bat control had been his calling card, but now his fielding skills draw him more attention. He has plus range and reliable hands. He has shown the ability to hit for average, make contact and use the whole field, and he started to drive more pitches during instructional league.
Weaknesses: He won’t impress anyone with his arm strength, but Lopez’ quick release allows him to make plays. While he has decent speed, he doesn’t have much basestealing aptitude. He rarely swings and misses, but his walks and extra-base hits are infrequent as well.
The Future: Birmingham’s leading hitter (.357) during the Southern League playoffs, Lopez will return to Double-A. He should get lots of big league attention in spring training, and possibly in September.
Background: The organization’s top pitching prospect a year ago, Honel took the mound just three more times after an Opening Day start in Double-A. Initially expected to miss about a week, he struggled with shoulder tendinitis all season.
Strengths: Honel’s knuckle-curve made him the 16th overall pick in 2001, the earliest an Illinois high school pitcher was drafted since Bob Kipper went eighth 19 years earlier. It has a sharp break and he generally can throw it for strikes in any count. He has good command and challenges hitters.
Weaknesses: Velocity seems to be a constant struggle for Honel. He pitched in the high 80s in 2002 before climbing to the low 90s in 2003. Chicago thinks his shoulder problems stemmed from bulking up and overthrowing. He developed bad habits that put stress on his shoulder. His changeup is a clear third pitch.
The Future: The White Sox are crossing their fingers that Honel comes to spring training healthy and ready to pitch in Double-A. They’ve lowered their expectations for him, counting on him being no more than an end-of-the-rotation starter, no earlier than mid-2006.